Numeral Storytelling in Sign Language

Like ABC storytelling, numeral storytelling is the art of telling a story (or sometimes a poem) using the manual numbers in order in ASL (American Sign Language).

An ASL storyteller tells a story based on the handshapes of ASL signs from the handshape 1 to 10 or further. For example, "1" for YOU, "2" for SEE, "3" for BUG and so on.

The narrator can use various sequences, such as from 1 to 10 or further, from 10 to 1 backward, etc. Although, the almost universal format is from 1 to 10. Or, from one to five for a simpler activity.

Like ABC storytelling, we often are flexible with the handshapes to bend a little. For example, claw 3 can be used for the non-claw number 3.

In my ASL classes, ASL students had a vocabulary breakaway activity as a review for their upcoming exam. I'd tell small groups to make as many ASL words as possible that start with the dominant-handed handshape "5" for a few minutes. Then, next "3". Next "S" and so on. Then "7".

So, the handshape "7" is the most challenging in number story.

Those ASL students are familiar with this activity over the semester and have enough corpus of vocabulary, they suddenly felt stumped. They came up with the number 7 in ASL. But, nothing else. They struggled for a couple of minutes and scratched their heads if they missed anything. I chuckled and told them that there are barely any ASL words with the marked handshape "7" and then moved on to the next handshape.

If you are a native/fluent signer or an ASL student above level 200, try to make one of your own for fun. You can decide how far you can go. Have fun!

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Related: zap stories / ABC storytelling / Storytelling in sign language.